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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Nurse involved in royal prank deserved better

I’ve worked with a lot of pranksters.

For some reason, the vehicle of choice for most was the telephone.

One of the more legendary pranks could almost be mistaken for hazing. An editor here used to greet new reporters, after a few days on the job, with news that the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo had acquired a new animal and that they’d need to call Mr. Lyon to get a comment for a story for the next day’s paper.


Another guy used to page one of our other editors and tell him he had a phone call waiting.

When we get calls, we “park” them, and someone else can pick it up by dialing 3 and the extension. For instance, if I got a phone call for someone, I’d tell them to pick up 3473.

This guy would page Chris, telling him to pick up “9911.” Dialing nine on our phones gives you an outside line. You can figure out the rest.

We caught Chris a few times, phone in hand, as he was about to dial in for his calls.

When we explained it to him, he’d usually look over and say, “You got me!”

Phones seemingly have always been the source of pranks. From children asking “is your refrigerator running,” to teenage lovers dialing their new boyfriends just to hear their voices, to a select few who reach out to touch a stranger with the fear of a threatening call.

Then there are the ones who work hard to fool you, such as a pair of disc jockeys in Australia who have become pariahs because of a prank call to a London hospital about 10 days ago.

You’ve surely heard about the call.

The morning radio hosts on 2DayFM dialed up the hospital where Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge was being held because of “acute morning sickness,” pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, inquiring about Kate’s condition.

The call went through the first gatekeeper and on to Kate’s nurse, who filled the pair in on details of how she slept, how she was eating and her prognosis.

The DJs taped the entire call, and broadcast it on their radio show. It then was picked up by media around the world, who were desperate for any information on the duchess’ condition.

Buckingham Palace was sharing very little detail, and the nurse spilled it all in a few seconds.
The story spread and spread and spread.

Some thought the DJs were clever, showing spunk to get the information with a simple phone call. Others said they were criminals, prying into the duchess’ privacy and sharing details that only her loved ones should know.

In the middle of it all was the woman who put the DJs’ call through to the nurse — the one who made the prank a success.

We learned her name on Dec. 7, when media outlets reported that she’d hanged herself.
It was news we didn’t need to receive.

And, I argue, it was news that wronged her worse than any harm caused by the DJs whose actions started the entire saga. Yes, she made a mistake. Yes, it was embarrassing.

I’ve been there. I’ve made mistakes that were completely embarrassing — to me and to The News-Herald.

You learn from them. You eventually get over them. Time heals all wounds, as they say.

For whatever reason, this 46-year-old nurse couldn’t imagine that happening, and then took her own life.

I have a feeling she’d be horrified that her friends and employer identified her in the media as both the person involved in the hospital prank and also as a suicide victim.

Generally, our guidelines don’t call for identifying suicide victims. We write about them in cases where there’s public inconvenience or concern.

I only wish those with knowledge of this nurse’s death had been so kind to her.

She deserved better than them turning a spotlight on her in the hour of her greatest pain.

 — Laura Kessel | | @Lauranh


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